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Body as Leib and Körper in Husserlian Phenomenology

Chapter IV: Chapter IV: Phenomenological Quest for the Inter-subjective Dimensions of Transcendental Subjectivity

4.2. Transcendental Subjectivity and its Embodiment as Conceived by Edmund Husserl

4.2.1. Body as Leib and Körper in Husserlian Phenomenology

In order to address Husserl‘s investigation of the lived body i.e. Leib and the physical body i.e. Körper it will be helpful to go back to the analysis given by Descartes regarding the constitution of the things in the nature. According to him, ―When thought of as extended in time and space, material in composition, and governed by rigid laws of causality, things bow and finally assume a posture that allows us to become the true ―lords and masters of nature‖ ‖ (Welton, 1999, p. 40). As per the explanation given by Descartes the essences of things can be reduced to measurable or mathematizable spatio-temporal extension or to say to their geometrical constitutions. This explanation also covers body as one of the things among the rest which brought body under the rules in medicine or to take body as a corpse (Welton, 1999). But, can we consider physical characterization as one and the only legitimate way to present things or an event in front of us?

78 In this regard Welton (1999) writes,

When look at a blooming rose or hear the plaint of an Indian funeral song, do I see electromagnetic waves 650 nanometres in length or listen to compression waves between 27 and 1000 cycles per second? Do I not rather see a blooming rose and sometimes a velvet red alive with passion? Do I not rather hear a funeral song, and perhaps a wail tremoring with lost love? (p, 40).

Husserl regarded these kinds of experiences as lived experience (Erlebnis) which is neither a sensorial event nor a perceptual one but the finding of one‘s own self which put forwards the body as lived (Welton, 1999). In this sense physical body is not simply the point or that centre because of which all things are situated. The body is not only the physical body which authenticates the material objects around us but also essentially the lived-body which is capable of free movement, grasping, repelling, penetrating etc. Therefore, Husserl in his phenomenology tried to bracket the physical body or body as körper (Crowell, 2013). This is the body which is an object in the world and also an object for other disciplines like Psychology or Biology which takes body from third-person perspective (Luft, 2003). If body is considered only as physical (körper) then that would definitely lack all depth, thickness and paths regarding the constitution of the space of the perceived things. As Husserl emphasized, body is not like a ―fixed eye‖ like mathematical results which gives similar results under similar circumstances (Welton, 1999).

After bracketing the physical body, transcendental subjectivity with its first person perspective continues to have a unique kind of embodiment. This embodiment as refered by Husserl becomes the subject in constituting the other objects, not literally but, only meaningfully. Interestingly enough in constituting the objects it also constitutes itself (Husserl, 1989). This is the same subject which was an object when it was viewed from the third person perspective in the natural attitude (Luft, 2003). To explain Husserl‘s enquiry of the lived body and the physical body it would be helpful to go back to his own analysis given in Ideas II. In his Ideas II, Husserl gives the example of touching one‘s own hand with the other hand. In that case the touching hand will experience various appearances of the touched hand as objective properties (Husserl, 1989, §36). The most crucial point here is that although


like the objective properties body has extension, softness, smoothness etc. because of the localization of the kinaesthetic and tactile sensation on the body it is different from the ordinary objects (Carman, 1999; Zahavi, 2003; Zahavi, 1999). Therefore, here the touched hand is not like an object of the world but an experienced organ too as the touched hand could also feel the touch here in itself. Husserl writes, ―Touching refers here to a physical event. Even two lifeless things can touch one another, but the touching of the Body provides sensations on it or in it‖ (Husserl, 1989, p.147). Husserl termed this as ‗bodily intentionality‘

which means the immediate sense of one‘s own embodied agency. Husserl contrasts this experience by giving an example of touching a table. If one touches the top of a table then s/he will experience various appearances belonging to the table. As Husserl puts,

My hand is lying on the table. I experience the table as something solid, cold, and smooth. Moving my hand over the table, I get an experience of it and its thingly determinations. At the same time, I can at any moment pay attention to my hand and find on it touch-sensations, sensations of smoothness and coldness, etc... Lifting a thing, I experience its weight, but at the same time I have weight-sensations localized in my Body (ibid, p. 146).

Thus, the touching of a table is different from touching one‘s own hand. So, in case of touching one‘s own hand the relationship between touching and touched is reversible as touching can be touched and touched can be touching here. Husserl regarded this as having the double-sensation of the body which provides the experience of having the double nature of the body as he says, ―for we have then two sensations, and each is apprehendable or experienceable in a double way‖ (ibid, p. 147). Having this double-sensation of the body is the most unique aspect of the transcendental subjectivity. According to Husserl, subsequently after this the Körper body gets constituted by the original embodiment. As Husserl continues,

―a natural object that ―belongs‖ to me by means of a self-enworlding, or ―mundanization,‖ in which I come to understand myself as an animal, a human being, and so on‖ (Crowell, 2013, p. 54).

80 In this regard Welton (1999) writes,

In the very process of touching the lived-body something new enters: the object touched also becomes the object touching. It is this unique structure of touching while being touched, of being touched while touching that makes the lived-body palpable to itself and comes to constitute it as an object. Thus, there is a circuit running not only between the world and the lived-body but also between the lived-body and itself (p. 46).

Thus, the constitution of the physical body cannot be understood as the constitution of the other material objects of the world. Rather it must be understood as the self-objectivation of the lived body performed by a subject who is already embodied. In this regard the point could be mentioned here is that Husserl gives preference to tactual realm over visual realm and says that while eyes cannot see itself seeing body can feel itself feeling and that is possible only because of the localization of the tactile sensation in the parts of the body.

Husserl in this connection brings an analysis of the difference between the visual and the tactual realm which can be found in his Ideas II § 37 in order to show the importance of tactile sensation over the visual one. Therefore, Welton (1999) writes,

―Husserl‘s argument is that a subject that had only vision would never know the body as lived-body‖ (p, 50). Tactile sensations have a location in the lived-body and therefore, the body can feel itself feeling but the same is not true in case of seeing through eyes. As Husserl writes, I can perfectly see my eyes in the mirror but I cannot see my eye seeing/seeing of my eyes, it is not like the reversible relation like touching and touched. The same is the case with hearing also (Carman, 1999).

Here, the most important feature that the lived body has is its subject-subject status. And because of having this subject-subject status of the lived body the existence of the other body can be understood as an embodied subject of this world. As conceived by Zahavi, (2003) according to Husserl, ―when my left hand touches my right hand, I experience myself in a way that anticipates the way in which I would experience an Other and an Other would experience me‖ (P, 113). This led Husserl to explain how Other is also equally important for the constitutive activity.